Friday, September 18, 2009

Ducati HyperMotard: Engineering Meets the Beginners Mind

I knew the HyperMotard was different by the way Craig Kissell was carefully describing how to best operate and ride the bike. Other employees and even one of the technicians weighed in with their opinions and stories of life on this particular Ducati. By the time I left Kissell Motorsports I had a list of cautions and riding procedures. I wasn't sure if this was standard operating procedure for anyone going out the door with a Ducati or if they felt this scooter rider might be in over his head. Whatever the reason for the first time I climbed onto a motorcycle nervous and uncertain of my skill. Anxious as if I were climbing aboard a Thoroughbred racehorse after years of pleasure riding on a gentle old mare.

Pausing along the road to look at the bike and make a few pictures I was reminded of the grace and power of this motorcycle. I was also reminded of my riding skill and experience and my habit of beginning slow. A beginners mind.

Ducati makes fine motorcycles. It only took a few moments to appreciate the engineering and craftsmanship that work together to create an avid following of riders. After familiarizing myself with the handling of the HyperMotard before sunrise in the parking lot of the Pennsylvania Military Museum I pulled over along a small gravel drive to make a photograph of the evaporating fog under a setting moon.

The Ducati is a powerful motorcycle. At 390 pounds and 90 horsepower it wants to go. Craig warned me that this is not a cruising bike and would complain when the RPMs dropped below 3000 rpm in the wrong gear. The Hypermotard just didn't feel right going slow and I could sense myself wanting to go faster. Definitely not designed for putting along looking for the next picture.

Fast traveling on roads like US 322 is simple. Turn the throttle and the Ducati leaps forward. Developing a sensitive touch on the throttle took a little practice. It's easy to imagine an inexperienced rider having trouble. A bit too much throttle and the bike feels as if it is trying to eject you backwards onto the road. Panic a bit and grab tight on the bars may only succeed in turning the throttle more and making matters worse. Years of careful control of power on my Vespa kept me in the safe zone.

To be completely honest I was nervous riding the HyperMotard, nervous beyond any passing thoughts of dropping an expensive new motorcycle dodging a chipmunk or some other unfortunate riding incident. On this bike I was concerned with the sheer power and how to manage it with the tools I have in my own riding experience toolbox. One thing frequent stops to make pictures does is to give a person a chance to assess what is going on. During this stop I realized I needed to apply the basics, all those simple skills and techniques that have served me well to manage risk. I may not be a beginner in terms of miles under my belt but I try to stay close to a beginners mind and show the respect a motorcycle and riding demands.

Appreciation of the landscape and a desire to capture it on film (you know what I mean) has that unintentional effect of slowing me down. I can't see the little details if I am flying down the road. It does indicate to me that control of the machine is only one part of the equation. Control of myself and the choices I make are just as important. Riding the Ducati I felt a constant pressure to go faster. The temptation is strong.

As empty as this road looks I have been surprised by geese, ducks, deer, dogs and fisherman appearing out of nowhere. I've passed many riders whose pace far outstrips my own faith that the fellow coming the other direction will do his part not to mention the critters who don't know there is a part to play.

I seem to be standing in or alongside the road more than traveling on it. While fishing the camera out of my riding jacket I heard a truck coming down the road and rounded this corner taking his lane out of the center of the road. When I photographed the red truck he was doing a bit better but not much. The HyperMotard thrives on diving into curves. It's here I have to balance what the bike and I can do against what seems prudent. We all set that line differently. The difference between my Vespa and the Ducati is how the more powerful machine seems to tempt a person towards the edge.

Just so I don't seem like a complete milktoast rider I did push the Ducati where it seemed prudent to do so. And after a couple hours of riding I felt as home on the bike as I do on my scooter. I had tested the brakes in a range of conditions and panic stops and I have to say that compared to anything I've ridden the front brakes on the Ducati startling in how they bite. I worked a bit to become accustomed to them just in case I needed to take advantage of all that stopping power.

At the end of the day I remain a tourist on two-wheels. Speed and performance are lost on me. My habits on the road find other traits more desireable. Still, the HyperMotard was smooth, powerful, and just an elegant piece of mechanical engineering. And given the right locations, skills and circumstances you could really have fun with one of these. I'm sure if Joe Paterno was a rider he would be running to get one.

The Ducati HyperMotard is fast and fun. Those two elements are a challenge to keep under control. If those things appeal to you, if you think you can't handle the potential at your fingertips then the Ducati may be the right motorcycle. For me, it offers too much and I fear my mind may be too weak to manage this bike responsibly. Besides, where would I carry my tripod?

Or in a couple months a Christmas tree??


Paul said...

"Developing a sensitive touch on the throttle took a little practice. It's easy to imagine an inexperienced rider having trouble...." Hi Steve. That's what I thought about the 1098. It's not for the inexperienced. It goes fast well. It goes slow poorly. You(Steve) would be safe on the hypermotard or any motorcycle because you keep it in your pants throttle wise. Plenty a young man has put them in the ditch when their d--k exceeded their brains. Dominos Vobiscum, Paolo

Chuck Pefley said...

The mark of a real "adult" is knowing how to balance all parts of life. Dessert vs. vegetables. Work vs. play. Me-time vs. us-time. The list of balancing acts goes on and on.

Prudence in concert with self-knowledge, and the ability to reign in those powerful-urges that come to all of us from time to time by thinking beyond the present moment to what might be around that next bend in the road ... so important to a life-well-lived.


Jack Riepe said...

Dear Steve:

What is the purpose of having a fast tough, motorcycle if you are going to ride it like the "Singing Nun?"

I say ride fast, take chances, and let the fishermen run like hell. Figure out the places that are likely to offter the best pictures the day before (in the car) and mark the pavement with spray paint. This will enable you to go 90 miles per hour between stops, getting the most out of the bike while teaching the geese to look over their shoulder.

You could do a collection of pictures titled, "Horrified Looks On The Faces Of Cagers I Passed." Did you ever see how the Italians ride these thinhgs on narrow mountain highways?

Neat blog today.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad
Twisted Roads

Steve Williams said...

Paul: I could certainly ride a lot faster and still keep the motorcycle (or scooter for that matter) out of the ditch. It's those fellow drivers and mammals that I'm wary of.

Chuck: Balance. A constant challenge. Riding, work, family, photography, chores, friends, food, exercise, and soon another dog--- I have trouble with balance. A life long learning experience.

Steve Williams said...

Mr. Reep: I think I am going to pass on your suggestion for a new photo project. It would require too much work to get signed model releases for a body of work that would surely become the basis of a new commercial empire.

Those Italian riders -- they've probably made their peace with God -- and are free of concern for this mortal life. I've not seen them first hand but I have seen many riders throughout Germany and the term death wish comes to mind as I think about what I saw.

I actually thought the singing nun was riding a little fast...

Mike Simmons said...


I was wondering when or if you were going to test a Ducati. These are such nice machines and your review is another good one. I like the comments by the others above, especially Jack's on fishermen running in fear. It's good you decided to return to the basics and to stay within the limits of yourself and the motorcycle.

As always the photography is excellent. It doesn't look like a fast bike keeps you from using your gift.


Sojourner rides said...

That bike looks very inviting to me! You didn't mention the height of the bike--it looks like it might be similar to the klr, which is too tall for me. I love the light weight of the bike, which makes me thing it is very flickable. The front brakes...are they smooth or is there a noticeable dive? Gosh, I think I'd enjoy that bike. BTW, I never tire looking at the roads you get to ride.

Charlie6 said...

great post!

Sounds like quite the pocket rocket to me.

I barely hit 60 mph on my Ural today and it seemed quite fast to me....let's see 40 horses and maybe 800lbs vs the Ducati specs....I think you'll win any races against the Ural! : )

Ade said...

I love it when you review bikes. We have a similar outlook on bikes and riding styles, and always wondered what these kinds of bikes are like to ride because I have noooo interest in going at those kinds of speeds on a motorcycle! I'd much rather waft to where I'm going.
Kissell don't deal in Harley-Davidsons do they? I'd love to hear your thoughts on a Road King or something!

Steve Williams said...

Mike: I think I may have subtly resisted riding the Ducati's. In my head they seemed so far from my riding style that I feared I wouldn't have much to say. Over time they looked more interesting. There was a really nice Ducati GT1000 I had my eye on but someone bought it. And there still is a Multistrada that looks nice. So who knows, I may try one of those more laid back Ducati's.

And remember, whatever Jack Riepe says --- look on the other side of the coin and you'll probably find me. *grin*

Steve Williams said...

Sojourner rides: The HyperMotard seat is 33.2 inches high versus the KLR at 35. It didn't seem anything like the Kawasaki to me. Everything was was laid out and the seating position was just like I like it --- upright. And the bars aren't wide like the KLR which at first makes you think your shoulders are being pulled apart on a rack.

The Ducati definitely was flickable just like the Vespa. It is designed to change directions fast and smooth.

The brakes are smooth but require a trained touch lest you grab too much. If you want the front wheel to dive or lock the brakes will gladly oblige. But operated under normal riding conditions they were smooth.

The last day I had the Ducati I was riding in the rain and had some concerns about locking the front wheel. Wasn't a problem though. Just have to make the prudent adjustments.

It's odd how much I ride the same area. Time constraints keep me from making the longer trips I used to do so often. But even a mile from home I keep seeing new things...

Steve Williams said...

Charlie6: I think I remember IronDad once commenting on his motorcycle to Jack Riepe: "Sophie will eat your BMW alive anytime anywhere."

My guess is with the right rider the Ducati would do the same thing.

Wait a minute. I bet in the snow that URAL rig would run circles around the Ducati.

Ade: Thanks for the kind words about the reviews. I sort of feel out of my element doing them since I don't write about technical things or how they tear down the road.

Kissell sells Harleys from time to time in their preowned business so I may try one out sometime. They have a Sportster there now.

I'll be riding some of the other cruisers they sell --- Kawasaki Vulcans and the big Triumph Thunderbird and perhaps even the Rocket. Those things seem enormous to me at the moment.

Time will tell.

Ducati Moto said...

Wow! Nice review. I thought you were so damn lucky to be able to ride and write these things. But then when I realized that you have an arrangement with a local dealer I thought they are the really lucky ones.

You should be doing this for one of the manufacturers. Your posts have heart and soul and aren't the regular bs that comes out of marketing shops.

Can't wait to see your next review!

Andre in Southern Ca.

bobskoot said...


I too would feel intimidated with the Italian racing machine which was designed to only go fast, but it was good to ride within your limits. We have age and experience on our side. Just because you have lots of throttle left doesn't mean you have to use it

bobskoot: wet coast scootin

Big Baber said...

Hey Steve, I met you a few years back at the State College rally--good to see you are writing and riding so much! I'll read through a few of these to catch up.


David said...

Steve, if you liked the Hypermotard, you really need to get on a 650 V-Strom (aka WeeStrom). It's similar in size to the HM, but has the utility of a Vespa (Never thought I'd make THAT comparison!) You could even pack your christmas tree on it. Slightly less power than the Ducati, but very usable. As a 'Strom rider/owner/lover I admit to being biased. As a truck driver running across America, there has to be a reason I see so many of them on the roads. :)

Keep riding and taking pics.
Dave T.

Conchscooter said...

The pursuit of power: what a strange obsession it is, and then manufacturers cave and out they come with more of it than most people can use, speaking as one who is happy with 65 claimed horsepower. And with a major service every 7500 miles Ducati is obviously not aiming at the daily rider.
I love riding in Italy because motorcycles are encouraged to sever the bonds that tie cars to their place in the road. It's just the rest of daily living that is so tredious there.

ridesroadsandronman said...


I always enjoy your posts. I feel the manner in which you review these bikes is far more useful than the normal tech reviews. Most of us are not into the tech aspect of things and just want to know how the bike feels to the normal rider. Thanks so much for the continued inspirations of riding, writing and photography.


irondad said...

I'm a bit late to this party. Not fashionably. Just been busy riding and just got here.

Somebody made a comment about you staying within your limits. As if you couldn't handle this bike. Don't even go there. Your limits could be anywhere you wanted them to be.

One of the reasons I respect you so much is that you are entirely comfortable with who you are and what you want from a bike. You ride what you do and how you do it because it suits your purpose.

That takes way more intestinal fortitude than a lot of people have. Like I say, I respect that.

It is getting close to Christmas, isn't it? Do you remember the photos of Sophie and the Christmas tree? Is it time for "bringing home the tree" wars again? :) This time I'd have to light my tree, too!

irondad said...


With a bike like this, it's often helpful to think "flex" instead of "twist" for smooth throttle at lower speeds.

bobskoot said...

Irondad via Steve:

Perhaps "Limits" was not the appropriate choice of word. There is physical and perceived. Many would have greater abilities but perceive their skills to be less and proceed accordingly

bobskoot: wet coast scootin

Steve Williams said...

Ducati Moto: I feel grateful for the interest and trust Kissell Motorsports has shown. They never know what I might write and have said whatever I do will be fine.

I'm uncertain that would be the case with a corporate arrangement. It would be fun to try it out though!

bobskoot: I suppose the bottomline is that I ride the way I want to ride regardless of what something was designed for. I like what I like. Maybe that's why I still think blue jeans are formal attire...

Steve Williams said...

Big Baber: That rally was a long time back. Did you have the scooter with the wicker basket?

David: Kissell's had a V-Strom 650 in their pre-owned collection that I almost took for a ride. Next time I am sure to try one out. They have always looked completely functional to me---like the KLR.

Steve Williams said...

Conchscooter: Pursuit of power is a strange idea to me too. A great topic for a post sometime.

Ronman: Thanks for the kind words. I like the notion that I am a normal rider. I don't often hear that!

Francis Bell said...

WOW-Great blogsite!!!!!!!!!!!!! I really enjoyed the pictures! Thank you for brightening my day- Francis

Anonymous said...


I wish I had read your post a little earlier. It happens that last week I bought a brand new Ducati HM 1100S. A beast!

This is my first bike ever! Before I was just taking a few bike lessons on a small Yamaha 125.

Well, first try on the HM went ok, short laps around the compound in 1st gear mostly (ocassional 2nd) and very slowly. Had fun, adjusted well!

Second try, I totally lost control!! trying 2nd gear in a more decisive way. The thing just flew out and I felt I was being left behind, causing me to grab hard no the handles, increasing the power and eventually hitting a sidewalk a bit too fast! Fell off (wearing no protective gear whatsoever) and thank God just got a few bruises on my arms and face. The bike however sustained some serioous damage on the oil reservoir, side walls and mirrors. They all have to be replaced.

I was/still are scared shitless at my total impotency at trying to control this bike that day. I think I applied brakes, clutch and steering at the same time without realizing that I my hand was stuck to the Gas lever and glued with strong muscular tension to it!

All I can say is that reading yours and other comments have been quite informative which makes me determined to climb on the horse again and ride one more time until I can feel at least in positive control at low Speeds.


Steve Gonzalez

Steve Williams said...

Steve: The Hypermotard is a beast and as you've found not a motorcycle to trifle with. I'm glad you are OK.

When I rode it myself I thought more than once how challenging it would be for a new rider. So much power available at just the faintest twist of the wrist. Nothing like your Yamaha 125 that you learned to ride on.

Your description of what happened is classic. I had the exact same thing happen to me albeit on a Honda 50 MiniTrail when I was a kid. I panicked at the surge of power, grabbed more grips (and throttle) and promptly rode through a hedge. It was a lesson I never forgot.

And protective gear.... good stuff when you wear it.

Congratulations on planning to get back on. Take it slow and practice in a parking lot until you are completely comfortable with the bike.

Let us all know how things go!

Good luck.

Anonymous said...

Hi Steve, thanks for your words of encouragement.

Another comment I have is that this bike is a bit high for my height. I bought a lower seat, which makes the ride easier but still I feel like on top of a tower.

The problem usually is when stopping and climbing off. So gotta use bigger boots for that to keep one foot all the way to the floor while the other on the shift lever side.

Any tips?



jagauto said...

Steve what a great review of the Hypermotard!
I recently purchased one (1100 evo 2012) and I cannot agree more with your review. I come from dual purpose 450 Yamaha and the straight position and looks of the HM sold me on it!. The first day I drove it well... I dropped the bike at a low speed, no major damage but scared the bejesus out of me. Next thing you know I took it, drove it around some deserted roads around my house and" felt at home" like you said. There is a lot more than meets the eye on this Bike. All I can say is that I am in love with this beast and I like the feeling of trying to control a wild horse, that was born to run wildly.

Steve Williams said...

jagauto: I remember the Hypermotard clearly and can easily understand how you could drop it. Glad you didn't do anything too damaging to yourself or the bike.

Compared to my Vespa it was a dramatic change. The basic riding principles were the same but the practical realities of such a powerful machine just sort of threw that out the door until I adapted.

Good luck with your bike and thanks for commenting here.

Ride safe.

Ducati Hypermotard said...

Out of all superbikes of the international market,Ducati is a trendsetter which defines the advanced technology in bike world.Ducati Hypermotard resembles to the wolf and turns into a speed machine.

Harley Motorcycle Tires said...

Is that the exhaust pipe that runs the same as the scooter's chair? And plus its huge! As in big. Doesn't it, you know, disturb the rider while releasing its contents?